We all seek happiness because it feels so good. But where is it? How do we find it?
Buddhist and yogic knowledge tell us we already own it – we just have to quiet our mind enough, quit the craving and regret, and live in the present moment in order to tap into it from within.
Western science and eastern philosophy also tell us that compassion, caring and pursuing a selfless goal in service to others, what yogis refer to as Karma Yoga, can bring about lasting happiness, too.
Both roads will lead you there, but there’s an often forgotten bridge that you must also cross along the way: the choice you make to be happy.
The idea that contentment and happiness is predicated on choice is not new.
Sentenced to prison twice for his controversial views on the French government, 18th century Paris-based writer and philosopher, François-Marie Arouet, known by his pen name, Voltaire, held the strong conviction that happiness was based on choice: “The most important decision you will make is to be in a good mood.”
Two hundred years later, a man from Detroit Michigan who began his life as an orphan only to write one of the best-selling books of all time, Dr. Wayne Dyer, said something similar: “Heaven on Earth is a choice you must make, not a place you must find”.
Rewind nearly 2,000 years to the centuries just after the birth of Christ and the same idea was being recalled by the author of the Yoga Sutras. In this sacred scripture, the sage Pantanjali referred to the sanskrit word “santosha”, meaning a state of contentment, describing it as a dutiful practice necessary for living a healthy life. He wrote that only by practicing santosha and deciding to carry an attitude of equanimity with you every day, can you craft a life of contentment. In fact, santosha can be thought of as a precursor to the modern day science on optimism.
In other words, happiness is a choice – a practice you choose to take part in. Just as you practice an instrument, parenting, or public speaking, we can choose to practice a happy, accepting attitude – the most healthful practice of them all.
Yes, emotions, particularly negative emotions to deal with will come. They will also go. And we can and should accept them and acknowledge them.
Yet at the same time, we can make that everyday choice to do our best to find our contentment…come what may.
See, choice is one of the most profound of the biological gifts given to the human being. Unlike tigers, lions and bears, our brains allow us the capability of pause, and the capability to then choose to respond rather than react. What this means is that every single event that happens in our lives is a chance for us to choose contentment. And when we do this over and over, every day of our lives, we begin practicing contentment. We begin overriding our innate tendencies toward the negative. We begin rewiring and resetting for contentment.
Your flight gets delayed: accept it, don’t fight it, smile and move on. Someone cuts you off, choose to let it move through you like a gently breeze. You bomb a meeting: choose to see it as beautiful lesson in making you better. Each and every adventure in your life is a test to see if you can reframe, course-correct, accept, and choose to live in a glass is half-full mentality.
Happiness is within you, yes, and in giving of yourself to others you will help you find it too, yes, but you also have to decide you want it in the first place.
Originally published on LinkedIn.com